It's Official: Java Heavyweights Announce Tools Interoperability Group

But are IBM, Borland, and Eclipse on board?

Last week, Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp., and eight other vendors announced the formation of the Java Tools Community (JTC), an initiative to promote interoperability among competing Java integrated development environments (IDE). Conspicuously absent from the JTC flotilla at launch time were two prominent Java tools vendors.

The JTC is positioned as a complement to the Java Community Process (JCP), which sponsors and oversees the development of Java standards. Its backers position the JTC as an initiative that focuses exclusively on Java development tools, where interoperability problems are legion. Oracle Corp., for example, markets Oracle 9i JDeveloper; Borland Software Corp., JBuilder; IBM Corp., WebSphere Studio; and Sun, NetBeans and Sun Studio.

This vastly complicates the job of an ISV that develops and markets its own J2EE-based application and which ideally would provide plug-in support—so enterprise developers could customize or otherwise write code in support of it—via an IDE. In the current state of affairs, an ISV needs to custom-code plug-ins for each of the IDEs it wants to support. In the world of Microsoft’s Visual Studio.NET IDE, ISVs need only write to a single set of APIs.

JTC members Sun and Oracle are joined by BEA Systems Inc., SAP AG, SAS Institute Inc., and Compuware Corp., among others. JTC grows out of Java Specification Request (JSR) 198—“Standard Extension API for Integrated Development Environments”—which proposed to establish a common API framework for Java IDEs. “The advent of JSR 198 allows us to continue to do that. The goal is to standardize those APIs so [developers] can write it once and move back and forth [between IDEs],” said Ted Farrell, chief architect for JDeveloper with Oracle, in an interview last month, before JTC members were willing to cop to the still-secret initiative. “We’re a big believer that if you standardize the APIs and the data, then the vendors can compete on the implementation. So [JSR 198] provides APIs so that ISVs can write extensions that work with multiple IDEs.”

As expected, the JTC ship is launching without official support from Java tools giants Borland and IBM, which both support successful IDEs of their own design. IBM also kick-started the open source Eclipse development project and bases its WebSphere Studio IDE on Eclipse. Eclipse is seen by some as a competitor to the JTC, but in an interview last month, Eclipse chair Skip McGhaughey said Eclipse is less a dedicated Java IDE and more an all-purpose framework designed to support any conceivable programming language. “[A]s long as the community wants to support a specific language, it can be built into Eclipse, so the goal here is to have a language choice built on top of a platform of choice, and that’s what we’re delivering right now,” he said.

Bernie Spang, director of WebSphere Studio for IBM, echoed this assessment. “IBM is very focused on our participation in Eclipse as a general open tools community. We certainly care about Java tools, but we don’t only care about Java tools. Our customers today are still mostly developing and maintaining COBOL and PL1 and C and other languages,” he said last month.

At the same time, Spang allowed, IBM is dedicated to stewarding Java standards within the context of the JCP. “We are also very active participants in the Java Community Process, which includes development of Java standards that are tools-related and have [an] impact on tools,” he commented. Does this mean that IBM would consider joining the JTC? When asked last month, Spang deflected the question by noting that the JTC hadn’t yet been announced. Efforts to reach an IBM spokesperson by press time were unsuccessful.

For his part, Rich Main, director of Java development environments for SAS, says that the two organizations—Eclipse and the JTC—are actually highly complementary. In addition, he notes that SAS, along with JTC members Oracle and SAP, are all members of the Eclipse industry consortium. “Eclipse is focused on implementing world-class tools, and the JTC is focused on creating the standards underpinning [the IDEs] to allow you to do that,” Main comments.

According to Main, JTC backers last month sought to reassure Eclipse board members that the new organization is a complement to the open source IDE effort. “At the last Eclipse board meeting in December, Michael Bechauf [vice president of Java architecture and standards with SAP] and myself got up before the board along with Skip [McGhaughey] to talk about what is this JTC, so we got up to explain to them no, it’s not a competitor [to Eclipse], that’s absolutely not what it is, if that‘s what it is, we don’t want to be involved,” he explains. “We don’t want to be involved in fragmenting the Java community. We want to be involved in unifying the Java community. [JTC is] about creating the underlying standards on top of which all of us can innovate.”

Main says that this message was “extremely well received” by the Eclipse board.

No one knows if the absence of IBM and Borland will make or break the Java Community Tools organization, but some industry watchers, such as SAS’ Main, say that if the JTC helps to advance Java’s cause, Big Blue will eventually come on board. “IBM really does not want to be a bull in a Java shop and go off and cause problems for Java. Ultimately they want to rally everyone behind Java,” he says. “What could happen is that as [the JTC] drive[s] meaningful, effective standards that benefit [IBM], they’ll want to get involved in this.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.